Affiliate Disclaimer: All products and services featured are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
There’s nowhere to hide from the effects of climate change. Every region in the United States has felt the rising temperatures, and in certain areas, flooding and more extreme weather patterns are putting homeowners in crisis. Experts even predict that some areas in the world will be unlivable by 2050. While some U.S. cities are better prepared to weather climate change and more extreme weather patterns, some areas are more exposed due to proximity to flood zones, a lack of climate-adept infrastructure and the population’s level of preparation.
Around the world, certain cities are building their climate resiliency by investing in clean energy, infrastructure and preparing their residents for extreme weather events. In the United States, there are some cities that stand out from the rest in terms of geographical risk, resilience and preparedness. To help you identify these locations, we explored 7 key factors using data from the NOAA, University of Notre Dame’s Urban Adaptation Assessment, EPA and other sources across 50 major cities to determine which cities are most and least resilient to climate change.
- Denver, CO is the most climate resilient city, where homeowners face fewer threats of extreme weather damage, the community has above-average readiness, and city-level initiatives support clean energy such as solar.
- Miami, FL is the least climate-resilient city out of the 50 major cities we analyzed, with the highest population exposure and infrastructure risk, which potentially hinders Miami’s ability to provide health care during extreme weather events.
- Seattle, Minneapolis, and Raleigh ranked in the top three for climate readiness, scoring highest for social, economic, and governmental engagement and adaptability to more extreme weather.
Most Climate-Resilient Cities
As you might expect, our top-ranked cities had a few things in common: They were likely to have lower populations, higher elevations, fewer adverse weather conditions, and lower overall exposure to flooding. However, even the top three cities have significant variation when it comes to their strongest factors. Our top 10 cities are located in nine states with widely varying elevations. Here are the three cities with the highest scores out of 136.3 total points
1. Denver, Colorado
Denver, Colorado scored 120 points out of a total possible 136 points. Due to its elevation and location, risks posed by sea level rise are minimal. With the exception of a few droughts and tornadoes, Denver has been relatively unscathed by extreme weather destruction in the last 10 years. Denver has a substantial score advantage over our second-place city, Raleigh due to having a strong clean energy infrastructure supporting residential solar.
2. Raleigh, North Carolina
The capital of North Carolina and the state’s second-largest city, Raleigh, scored 115 points out of a possible 136 points. Though Raleigh is located just a few hundred feet above sea level and ranks 44 out of 50 for clean energy infrastructure, Raleigh ranks third in the country for climate change readiness and adaptability, beaten only by Seattle and Minneapolis. This city also boasts 217 days of “good” air quality, compared to Denver’s 84 days.
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City ranks third for climate resilience, scoring 114 points out of a total of 136. Although wildfires pose a risk, Salt Lake City experiences relatively few destructive natural disasters and flood risk compared to cities like Tampa and Miami. Salt Lake City scores in the middle of the pack in terms of climate change readiness and adaptability, but well-positioned to improve its clean energy ranking (No. 26). As its renewable energy industry grows, the City Council is also aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in 2040.
Least Climate-Resilient Cities
The cities that made the bottom of our list for climate resiliency are primarily coastal cities with a history of flooding and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, and vulnerable to sea level rise.
50. Miami, Florida
Miami may seem like a vacation paradise, but for residents, Miami has many vulnerabilities that may become worse with increasingly severe weather. Miami scored 63 points out of a possible 136, driven by its risk score: flood risk, vulnerability of its population and ability to provide health care services during severe weather events, the worst among all 50 cities analyzed. Miami also has the fourth lowest readiness score, which could slow the city’s ability to adapt to weather changes in the future.
49. Tampa, Florida
Tampa, Florida scored 81 points out of a possible 136. Out of all the large Florida cities we ranked, Tampa’s population exposure, vulnerability and ability to provide health care during weather emergencies was the second best behind Orlando, but its readiness score is similar to Miami’s and Tampa has the third worst clean energy infrastructure ranking among the 50 cities we analyzed. Tampa’s air quality is also below the average 142 “good” air quality days, at 112 days.
48. Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida scored 81 points out of a possible 136 points, driven largely by its high risk score, underscoring the city’s flood risk and population exposure during extreme weather events. Jacksonville, the state’s largest city in terms of population, is also in the bottom 15 of the 50 cities we analyzed for readiness, and taking less action to adapt for more extreme weather in the future. Jacksonville ranks 47 out of 50 for clean energy initiatives.
50 Major Cities Ranked by Climate Resiliency
Below are our full findings for the 50 most climate-resilient cities in the United States.
Climate Resilience for Homeowners
Destruction caused by natural disasters have incurred billions of dollars of damage in recent years, and as climate change worsens, residents may experience these events with increasing frequency. The good news is homeowners can assess their risk by using tools such as FEMA’s Flood Map, and shore up their homeowners’ insurance policies to make sure their losses are covered. Purchasing flood insurance is also recommended for homes located in flood zones, as losses related to flooding are typically not covered in homeowners insurance policies.
If you live in an area with a strained electrical grid and high costs, solar panels could be a practical long-term investment, so your utility needs are less vulnerable to natural disasters and their impacts on power grids. Though the cost of solar panels can be a considerable investment, your location, energy needs and cost of electricity in your area may help you recover your investment in a matter of years thanks to federal tax credits, which have now been extended to 2034.
City-Level Climate Resilience
The University of Notre Dame’s Readiness report reveals some of the key ways cities can better plan for climate resiliency and readiness. Here is a look at the factors that this report explored:
- Local government operations: Does the city have goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy efficiency?
- Community-wide initiatives: How actively is the community working toward accomplishing these goals?
- Buildings policies: What policies encourage or require new construction or upgrades to buildings that increase energy efficiency and reduce waste?
- Energy and water utilities: What steps are utility companies taking to embrace renewable energy sources like solar and make them more widely available to average consumers?
- Transportation policies: How is the local government making public transportation more accessible to reduce car use? Are communities mixed-use to encourage walking and biking?
How We Chose Our Ranking Factors
We analyzed seven factors to quantify climate resilience across 50 major U.S. cities to assess an area’s flood risk based on elevation and severe weather events, taxes on resources due to population, population readiness, and supporting city-level infrastructure. Climate resilience variables were weighted, with the highest weight applied to the UND risk and readiness score. The maximum overall score for any city was 136.3. Higher scores indicate a more climate-resilient city.
- Population: Census data used to determine population-dense areas where resources are taxed during severe weather events.
- Elevation and projected sea level rise: Data from Surging Seas Risk Finder and US Geological Survey to determine location’s flood risk based on elevation sea level proximity.
- Extreme weather: NOAA data used to determine occurrences of extreme weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, excessive heat and cold since 2012.
- Risk rank: Measures an urban environment’s exposure to flooding, the vulnerability of its people and buildings, and its ability to provide health care according to UND UAA scores.
- Readiness rank: Measures an urban environment’s social, economic, and governmental engagement concerning climate change and overall adaptability according to UND UAA scores.
- Air quality index: Data from the EPA used to determine the number of “good” air quality days per year.
- Clean energy ranking: Data from the ACEEE used to determine the percentage of power generated from green energy sources such as solar, water, and wind.
- American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)
- Climate Central
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative
- US Geological Survey
- United States Census Bureau
- Air Quality Index Report (EPA)
- World Resources Institute
Read more: Our Methodology